Two trips, one blog post: Pompeii, Ercolano, Positano, and Capri

Due to the super cheap flights from Venezia to Napoli, I have flown down twice with guests to experience the Campania region of Italy.

My sister visited in August, and we flew to Napoli for a whirlwind, one day tour of Pompeii, Ercolano, and Mount Vesuvius. We hired a private driver and tour guide through Stephanie at Inspiration Trips and it was worth every penny. I recommend contacting Stephanie for any help you need planning a trip in the area. She also helped us plan the Amalfi Coast visit (more to come on that later).

Our first stop was Pompeii. I had always been fascinated by the story of this city buried in ash from a volcanic explosion. Pompeii is an UNESCO World Heritage site and is visited by almost 2.5 million people per year, a large percentage of whom were definitely there the same day as we were. One recognizable feature of the Pompeii ruins are the plaster casts of victims, which show modern day visitors the exact positions in which the dead perished. Many people died while covering their face with their hands.

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Pompeii- main square with a modern art exhibit in the center
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Pompeii
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Pompeii

We followed up with a visit to the lesser known Ercolano, which was affected by the same eruption in 79 AD as Pompeii; however, these residents were killed by hot mud and other volcanic debris, rather than by ash. This town was more interesting to me as it sits underneath the modern day city. The volcanic debris covered the whole place and new settlements were built on top of it. In fact, looking up from the center of the ancient city, you are surrounded by modern day apartments, complete with laundry hanging out of the windows.

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Eroclano with the modern city surrounding it from above
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Casts of skeletons found in Ercolano
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Tile work in Ercolano

 

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Tile work in Ercolano
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Tile work in Ercolano
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Tile work in Ercolano

Our last activity for the day involved a super fast run up to the top of Mt. Vesuvius. We had an evening flight back but had enough time to jog up, take some pictures, and get back to the airport. Whirlwind day but totally excellent adventure!

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Steam from a vent in the crater of Vesuvius
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View of the Bay of Napoli from the top of Vesuvius

A couple of months later, I was lucky enough to have two of my good friends from Sarasota come play for a week! DB and BC joined me and my friend RWH for two nights in Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We used Inspiration Trips again, this time for a driver both ways from the airport. We booked him for eight hours and made several stops on the way to our hotel.

The hike up Mt Vesuvius was gorgeous at 9 AM , complete with a slight chill in the air. We made it up the mountain before the hordes of tour busses and had the trail practically to ourselves. This was followed by a tour, tasting, and lunch at a winery on the back side of the mountain. Azienda Vinicola Sorrentino  provided us with a snarky guide, David, good service, and a delicious lunch. The cost was a little more than I am used to (30 Euro) but I think I am spoiled by Veneto prices.

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HI Brex!
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Going up.
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Learning.
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Lovely.
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Love these girls.
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Before the other people showed up.
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Cin cin!

After lunch, we set off on our scenic drive to Positano. We stopped for  while in the small town of Vietri sul Mare, which is well known for its ceramics. The funny fish flower pots all over town were obviously my favorite.

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Then we drove the windy coastal road all the way to Positano. I made it about twenty minutes before I started to feel carsick. Beautiful views and a lovely drive, but I do not know how anyone would want to come in the summer when it is bumper to bumper traffic the entire way. We stopped at a small fruit stand and saw the biggest limes ever- the size of DB’s head! This region is known for its lemons (and limoncello).

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Got to Positano- stayed at the Hotel Savoia, which had a comfortable room with nice balcony, huge bathroom for European standards, and an ample breakfast. Only downer was no wifi in the rooms, but I think that just means I need to disconnect a little more. Wandered down towards the water for dinner and had a blast at Le Tre Sorrelle. Our server (I regret not remembering his name as he was fantastic) made our evening perfect with his wine and food recs as well as conversation. RWH was also obsessed with the limoncello spritz he made her, as well as their homemade tiramisu. In fact, she got some to go the next night after our dinner elsewhere since it was that good!

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The next day was the big adventure- an eight hour private boat tour to Capri. We hired through Gianni’s Boat, service was spectacular and the only bummer was that the weather was a little chilly for swimming. Sweatshirts all around! Diego was our captain and we learned so much about the area from him. He maneuvered the boat into several tiny grottos which were really cool. The coastline looks somewhat similar to parts of southern Portugal  which I am sure has to do with when the landmasses were created and whatnot. You know, science and stuff. We also learned about Mariah Carey’s vacation rental (giant english castle for two weeks every August), saw Sophia Loren’s house (lends it out to Leo DiCaprio a lot) and that Eva Mendes rented the same boat we did! You know, pop culture and stuff.

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We now come to the part in the story where I am a hater/party pooper/Debbie Downer. Have you heard of the Blue Grotto? Sure you have- it is famous and one of the main reasons people come to Capri. You can only enter on a small boat when the tide is low, and the way that the light comes in the entire place takes on an eerie blue glow. Rumor is that Roman emperors used this as a private pool, accessed by a staircase that led directly up through the rock to the castle.

For the small price of 13 euros per person, you disembark your main boat into a small rowboat. Then you lay flat while your guide pulls the boat into the mouth of the cave by a chain, hopefully singing to you the whole time. After two minutes paddling around the grotto, out you go. Seriously??? I cannot imagine the height of summer when OVER 3,000 PEOPLE enter this grotto on the daily. Am I glad we did it? Sure, because we did not have to wait to get in and now I can laugh at it and tell you all to save your 13 euros for your lunch in Capri which will for sure empty your wallet. I bet if you ask your boat captain there is some other grotto on the island that is blue enough that you can go in for zero euros.

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Entrance to the Blue Grotto. Can you imagine 3,000 people trying to go in there?
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Yup… it’s blue.
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Getting back on our boat.

Lunch on Capri was ridiculously expensive, but really good. I mean, we picked our place for lunch based on the fact that Beyonce and Jay-Z had eaten there so idk what I was expecting. We took the funicular up to the town of Capri from the harbor (cost approximately 2 euro), and then walked back down (took about 20 minutes).

Then, the weather came in, and our amazing day with Diego got cut short. We ended up taking the ferry back to Positano due to the rain and winds that came in. The girls and I had a blast on the ferry watching BC do the “Titantic” with an unsuspecting but very cooperative Canadian.

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Walking down to the harbor.
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Pretty door.

My recommendations for visiting the Amalfi Coast and Capri would be to go in the spring or in September/early October. We went during the last week of October and missed great weather by a week. No matter how beautiful it is, the towns, roads, and restaurants are small and sharing the experience with thousands of your closest friends would be less than ideal. Additionally, everything on Capri closes as of November 1 for the winter, which I guess would be a great way to save some money.

Back in Positano, I ran into a guy with a Maryland Terrapins shirt and we got to talking. He lives there for half of the year and then is in Bethesda the rest of the year. He told me about the chef at one restaurant who is a serious/really good ultra marathoner, so we went out later that night and found him. He told us about a few races in the area, as well as recommended a running route through town and up to the Path of the Gods. There is a trail race in Positano at the end of March that might be fun to attend.

Don’t forget to bring back some limoncello and mozzarella di bufala from the area! There is a shop post-security near gate A6 at the Napoli airport that has the mozzarella vacuum packed and ready for carry on air travel.

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Best steps ever.

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